Like many, I first came to yoga with the promise of a stronger, more flexible body. Asana, the physical practice of yoga, predominates popular culture and conceptions of what it means to practice yoga. I wanted to embody all that strength, flexibility and stamina that asana claims to create. After several months of consistent practice, that's what I got. But that's not what has kept me practicing all these years. Sure, I deeply appreciate the relationship I have to my body and the health and vitality a yoga practice brings. But what has kept me invested in the practice all these years is the process of experiencing, of feeling, of embodying yogic ideas and ideals. This is my true yoga practice.
Yoga on the whole is designed to do what the root of the word implies: yoga "yokes" together the seemingly disparate parts of embodied experience, body, mind and heart (seemingly being the operative word.) One of the reasons asana practice is effective in creating a healthier body is because the process of yoking breath and movement creates an environment where the mind can focus better on the task at hand. When body, and breath are united in a common practice, the mind can appreciate the present moment, and remember that body, mind and breath are different but never separate. In our natural state, I am a whole, living organism.
This is beautiful poetry, but it is also very practical. Yoga helps us make sense of body and mind. The more the mind is able to stay present to the task at hand, the more clear and resourceful embodiment is. In other words: get present and make better decisions. Through the practice of yoga, we enter into what Douglas Brooks calls the triadic heart of existence: Reflection, Revelation and Recognition. We reflect upon and thus remember we potential as human beings; we can see that same impulse revealed in others; and ultimately, we recognize, embody and clearly express human ideal, the heart's deepest desires. We re-member.
So, what are the ideals embedded in the practice of yoga? That depends on who you ask, what experiences they've had through yoga practice, what books they've read, and with whom they have studied. Ultimately, what you get is the synthesis of an individual's personal experience and personal perspective. As I tell my yoga students, it's all well and good for me to sit up here and talk to you about this stuff, but until you learn to get it into your body and apply it to your self then it's not practical; it won't make sense.
Over the course of many years, I tried on different philosophical bents. I spent nearly four years studying and nearly 7 years teaching art and art history from the perspective of Rudolf Steiner and his philosophical legacy, Anthroposophy. I struggled to understand Steiner's dense texts, read tens of books, hundreds of lectures, and worked at 3 different Waldorf schools. I knew I had an appreciation for this way of thinking and being, but I could never quite get it into my being. Steiner himself was known for saying, 'don't take my word for it; experiment for yourself and see what you find.'
As frustrating and confusing as it was, I don't think I would be where I am today, the person I am today, without this desire to search for an experiment and an experience of myself. Steiner also said that when you embark upon a spiritual path, life doesn't get any easier. In fact, it gets way harder! I think the the time I spent attempting to align with his spiritual epistemology laid the foundation for what I ultimately met in myself through the study of yoga philosophy, and eventually in Tantric philosophy.
This philosophy has taught me that yoga doesn't make life easier; yoga offers the tools to engage with the fullness of life. A yogic life is one where every moment I experience, everything I encounter is an opportunity for me to remember that I am already my ideals embodied. There's nothing I need to strive to do. There is nothing I need to acquire and nothing I need to let go. Yoga re-cognizes and re-members me.
"Wait, I thought you were going to talk about yoga philosophy.
What the heck is Tantric Philosophy?"
Shakti’pata-anusarena shishyo’nugraham arhati
“By falling into the current of Grace the seeker becomes capable of holding the constancy of the Heart.... By stepping into the current, by falling into the energies of Grace, the seeker becomes capable of becoming weighty, of becoming the Guru.”
- trans. Dr. Douglas Brooks